Strictly 2021

BBC Strictly Come Dancing

I do this every year – I say “Oh I’m not bothered about getting into Strictly Come Dancing this year”, and then I get completely engrossed and I’m watching the live show, the results show, all the weekday It Takes Two shows and I’m all over the social media! Well, this year my favourites are the stunning AJ Odudu & new pro dancer Kai – AMAZING chemistry and fantastic routines, especially their sizzling Argentine Tango, which I can’t stop watching, a banger of a Jive on week one and THEN on Saturday night they pulled off a killer Charleston. Yes, I’m obsessed! I definitely think John & Johannes and Rose & Giovanni will be joining them in the final –  it’s such high standard of competition this year!

Are you watching?

Back in the Gym!

I can’t believe how excited I am to be back in the gym!! If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that before the pandemic, I used to go to the university gym near my work every Tuesday and then to my tap class on a Thursday, and I found that worked quite well for me. I’m rarely in London anymore, still working from home, so my SO and I decided to try and find a local gym we could use. It wasn’t easy to find something nearby first of all, and then something that was affordable…but then we looked outside the box and found a great little gym (with swimming pool and sauna) in a retirement village – don’t laugh! The beauty of its location is that it is pretty deserted when we go in the evenings 🙂

I’ve had really bad nasal allergies and eczema on the tops of my feet on and off since the end of August, but since I’ve started working out more often and drinking more water, I feel like things are easing up quite a bit and I feel a lot better in myself. I don’t know why it’s so hard to make myself drink water when I’m working from home! Maybe because I’m moving around less – I was pretty good at staying hydrated in the office and refilling at the water machine quite regularly. Anyway, I’m keeping a large bottle of water by my desk every day to encourage myself to drink!

Review: Ballet Black Double Bill

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

Last Thursday I went to see Ballet Black at the Watford Palace Theatre. I was so burned from work last week that I wasn’t really in the mood until we got there. In their 19th season, Ballet Black were performing a double bill of two very different pieces: Then Or Now and The Waiting Game.

Then Or Now

This muted piece was set to a spoken score, the poetry of American poet Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) from her Dark Fields of the Republic, along with the music of Heinrich Franz von Biber (1644-1704). Being set to poetry made it a series of shorter pieces, with themes of the breakdown of community, selfishness, individualism, politics and violence. For me, Then Or Now was powerful but I found the spoken word difficult to concentrate on after a while (probably because I was really tired), and it was a little abstract for me, but it was danced really beautifully and I enjoyed the variety of Will Tuckett’s choreography.

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

The Waiting Game

Choreographed by Mthuthuzeli November, this was my favourite piece of the evening, on the topic of something almost everyone can relate to: the monotony of the daily grind and the desire to escape! Spoken over and over again were the words (I hope I’ve remembered this correctly) “Wake, shower, eat, work, eat lunch, work, home, dinner, sleep, wake, shower, eat, work….” and it went on and on like that. The main character, the work drone, is ruminating on the meaning of life and death and is trapped in a cycle of constantly trying to leave his life via a mystery door, that seems to be enticing him (through a group of mischievous dancers) to an exciting life…but he keeps being prevented from opening it. He meets his sparky alternate (female) self on his cyclical journey of torment and eventually the door is opened and he joins the party, complete with sequined jacket, dancing with gospel church joy to Etta James’ fabulous song Something’s Got a Hold of Me…before returning to his monotonous old life, and the punchline is delivered. This scene was so uplifting and a visual treat.

Verdict: A really enjoyable contemporary ballet double bill, displaying creativity and contrast. As you’ve probably gathered, The Waiting Game was my favourite piece.

 

Why Rhythm Tap?

Image from TDRNUK

Last week I spent a lot of time umming and ahhing over whether I was going to join Tap Dance Research Network UK’s lastest Zoom networking event: Tap Café – Open Space.

Because I’m a member, my ticket was automatically booked and I got an email notification to let me know. I’ve only ever attended TDRNUK’s talks on a particular subject where I could just listen and write notes, and up to this point I’d chickened out of attending the networking events. I mean, the word ‘networking’ can make a lot of people run a mile. Well, last Thursday I decided to stop being silly and just GO!

It was a REALLY great session where a couple of questions were put forward and then we discussed them. We actually ran over time because an hour is really not enough to talk about all things tap dance, am I right? There weren’t as many people as at the last event I attended, but numbers have dropped off a bit on all kinds of online events since things have opened up again, and TDRNUK do vary the day of the week and time of day of their events to make sure everyone gets a chance to attend something. We started off by going round and introducing ourselves, something I had prepared myself for in advance. I was the only one there who is not teaching tap, but not the only newbie to the networking events, and can I just say, Jane Goldberg joined us from New York!

Rhythm Tap?

One of the questions that was raised was why we call it ‘rhythm tap’. The class I attend is called ‘Rhythm Tap’ and that name actually drew me in over the ISTD syllabus-led ‘Tap’ that was also available at that particular college (and I’m glad, from what I hear about syllabus tap). There was also ‘American Tap’ at Citylit, which was my other choice, and ‘Jazz Tap’ at Pineapple Studios, which are all the same thing and sound exciting! We kind of came to the same conclusions in our chat – in the UK, most people think of West End/Broadway musicals, like 42nd Street when they think of tap dance, which is all about the aesthetic quality, rather than the ‘rhythm tap’ style which is about sounds, musicality and improvisation.

If you go down the dance school route as a child in the UK, you’ll likely be doing the ISTD tap dance syllabus, which is fairly restrictive in terms of steps and rhythm, but it gives you what you need for a career in musical theatre. I’ve heard people say that by their early teens they’d learnt all there was to learn in tap, had nowhere else to go with it…and quit. This blows my mind because there is SO MUCH TO LEARN! But this made sense when, in our discussion, someone mentioned that when they were learning as a child, it was a case of ‘this is a shuffle, this is the timing for a shuffle and that’s that’. By saying ‘rhythm tap’, we are making the distinction, but I don’t believe this distinction really applies in the US. What do you think?

The Tap Café session really picked me up after a busy and frustrating day at work and I really can’t wait for the next one! 

 

Two Theatre Shows in Two Weeks!

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle Theatre Programme

Last Saturday my SO went into London to see Kate Prince’s latest dance story, Message in a Bottle at the Peacock Theatre in Holborn. The show how told the story of a family of refugees who have been displaced following civil war in their homeland. This was set against the backdrop of the songs of Sting, including Roxanne, Englishman in New York and of course Message in a Bottle. The story was poignant, current and very moving in places and the music and dance was just fantastic.

The Lion King

Lyceum Theatre

This Saturday just gone, we took my mum and nephew to see the award-winning musical The Lion King. We originally had tickets for August, but it was postponed due to cast and crew members having tested positive for Covid. It was a fabulous, colourful show and of course Elton John’s songs are amazing (The Circle of Life is a particular favourite). Unfortunately, there were a lot of people in the audience fidgeting, looking at phones and generally messing about – the adults, not the children!

It’s been great to get out there and support the arts! Have you been to the theatre lately?

It’s October

Hello! Today is the first day of October and it definitely feels like it – yes I’m wearing a jumper. I haven’t written a post since I received my Tap Dance Postage Stamps in August, so here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to recently:

The City of Bath 

At the beginning of September, my SO, my mum and I had a 3-day break in the beautiful Georgian city of Bath. My SO and I had been before as a short stop-off on the way to Cornwall, and we had been meaning to return for a proper visit. The sun was out the whole time and it was loooovely and warm. We wandered the city, ate great food, visited Bath Abbey and the Jane Austen Museum (we bought books!), did 2 different bus tours. We had a GREAT time and can’t wait to go back.

Tap Class

Tap classes restarted last week after the summer break! I’m continuing to work from home, so I’m not able to attend the classes in London. My teacher is running online-only classes on a Monday evening, so I’m doing her one-hour intermediate/advanced class. It’s pretty cool to be moving towards advanced level tap. The class is basically covering the same stuff as the in-person intermediate classes, but at a faster pace. Because it’s an hour as opposed to 45 minutes, we have more time for the exercises, such as rudiments.

I was determined this summer to do lots of practise down in the garage, and I was actually getting stuck in with rudiment exercises from the recordings of the virtual NYC Tap City festival….but then I had a flare-up of eczema on the tops of my feet that meant I wasn’t able to wear tap shoes or get hot feet. (I’ve not had any eczema for about 5 years, so it’s pretty frustrating). That knocked practise out for several weeks. Well, now I’m back to class and it’s back again – I think I’ve been a bit stressed lately. The steroid cream is working, so hopefully I’ll be okay for Monday.

Exercise

Like a lot of people I need to get back into shape after having sat around at home for over a year with no commute and no Tuesday gym sessions. Last year I was quite motivated to exercise. This year…not so much. But, I have been doing the BOP Jazz workout most weeks, which has helped with flexibility more than anything, and last week I renewed my £8.99 subscription to Rambert’s Home Studio for access to all their online classes – Ballet, Contemporary, Contemporary Fusion, Yoga, Pilates and Dance Cardio which I did on Monday and still haven’t recovered from! I went swimming a couple of times during the summer and even ran around a local running track with my SO (a club-runner!), of which I hated every minute because I really hate running 🙂 I’m hoping to maybe get into the swimming habit on a Friday, but we’ll see!

How are you keeping fit right now? Have you gone back to the gym? Are you back to in-person classes or still online? Let me know in the comments – I love to hear from you!

 

Tap Dance Stamps: Tap Collection

Tap dance stamp collection

I received my Gregory Hines stamps a few weeks ago, but LOOK what came through the door this week! This year, the US Postal Service issued a new set of stamps honouring the American art form of tap dance – featuring five of tap’s hottest performers today: Max Pollak, Michela Marino Lerman, Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia and Ayodele Casel. 

The stamps were designed by Ethel Kessler and the dancers were photographed by Matthew Murphy, and it’s important to note that the US postal regulations prohibit the honouring of a living person on a stamp, in case you were wondering why the dancers’ names are missing. Instead, the dancers are honouring the art form as representatives.

The first-day-of-issue ceremony took place in Times Square, New York City during Tap City, the New York City Tap Festival in July, and was attended by Max, Dormeshia, Ayodele and Michela, plus Tap City and ATDF’s Tony Waag.

As with my Gregory Hines set, I’ll be putting these into a frame to display in my garage dance space, as part of my tap dance memorabilia – but first we’re getting the garage roof replaced because it’s leaking. I’ll share some pics next month!

The stamps come in sheets of 20 and are available from the USPS or if you’re outside the US, try Gift Sampler on ebay.

Have you ordered yours yet?

Tap Dance Stamps: Gregory Hines

Gregory Hines Stamps Ordinarily I’m not a stamp collector, but I was really excited to receive THESE in the post! In 2019 the United States Postal Service celebrated the life and work of the award winning tap dancer and entertainer, Gregory Hines by making him the 42nd honouree in their Black Heritage USA Forever stamp series, with a ceremony at the Peter Norton Symphony Space in Manhattan, NYC. 

The event was attended by his brother Maurice Hines, his daughter Daria, his protégé Savion Glover, Tony Waag of ATDF, Chloe and Maud Arnold of the Syncopated Ladies and Jason Samuels Smith. The photograph used for the stamp was taken by Jack Mitchell in 1988 and the stamp was designed by art director Derry Noyes.

I’m planning to frame my little stamp collection with the following Gregory Hines quote:

I don’t remember not dancing. When I realised I was alive and these were my parents, and I could walk and talk, I could dance.

I’ll share some pics once they’re on display in my garage dance studio.

The stamps and artwork are available to purchase at the USPS Shop
– if you’re outside of the US, like me, check out Gift Sampler on ebay.

Have you got your stamps yet?

Swinging at the Cotton Club

A few weekends ago my SO and I went to see ‘Swinging at the Cotton Club’ at Watford’s outdoor summer event space, Stage in the Park. We opted to take our own deck chairs, rather than sit on blankets or sit in the area with chairs provided – cheaper tickets!

The park was also hosting the annual Jiveswing Festival that day, so we went along a bit earlier to make sure we caught some of that beforehand. We only got there to catch the end of the festival, but looking at their social media feed, it looks as though it had been a fantastic day.

Stage in the Park advertised lots of food options, so we didn’t eat beforehand. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t anything there, besides some sausage rolls. There was a Caribbean food van that was setting up, but wouldn’t be ready to serve until the interval…no burgers, no Mexican food as promised! And the people running the event didn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that none of the other food vans had materialised either. We ended up walking back across the park to the Jiveswing Festival to grab a burger from a van that was just starting to pack away and head home. Once we were in our seats, the HEAVENS OPENED and it continued to rain for most of the show. It got to the point where some of the dancers were slipping on the stage, which was mopped during the interval… ANYWAY, onto the actual show:

In celebration of the hottest joint in 1920s-30s Harlem, Swinging at the Cotton Club was a variety show of song, Lindy Hop, vintage jazz dance and tap dance, against the live music of Duke Ellington, played by Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra. The dancers were from the Lindy Hop Dance Company (which included Jreena Green, who was one of the special guests on BOP Jazz’s ‘Let’s Talk Jazz‘ series last year), and the featured tap dancer was Worthing-based artist Lee Payne, who is part of Tap Dance Research Network UK – I had no idea there would be tap dance in the show because it wasn’t mentioned in the blurb, so that was a pleasant surprise!

Lee did a GREAT job with his exciting tap routines, including one dedicated to Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and he even pulled out a sand dance later in the show, which was awesome. Vocalist Marlene Hill breezed through classic songs such as ‘Is You is or is You Ain’t My Baby’ (with compere Megs Etherington) and ‘Stormy Weather’, which was particularly apt in the relentless downpour. The Lindy Hoppers did some flashy routines, which were really fun to watch, framed perfectly by the shimmering lights of the background staging and the various costume changes. They also showcased a bit of tap, and I particularly enjoyed their soft shoe routine – I love the fact that tap doesn’t always have to be fast and furious.

The audience was quite small, but very encouraging to the artists and most of us stuck it out in the rain until the end, and actually, the sun did come out in the second act. Many people got up to dance and I got out of my seat to join in with the Shim Sham at the end 🙂

Verdict: It was a great show and I loved the music and dance and atmosphere. I just think I’d rather watch it indoors next time!

 

Quick Bio: Jeni LeGon

Over the last year or so of online talks and events, I’ve learned about so many different legendary tap dance artists, and written about a few of them too. This time, I thought I would write about one of the pioneering women of the artform – Jeni LeGon:

Born: 14th August 1916 in Chicago, Illinois as Jennie Ligon.

Died: 7 December 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Known For: Being one of the first black women to develop a successful solo dance career, for dancing in trousers (unusual for women at the time) and for being the only black woman to dance on screen with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, who was regularly paired with Shirley Temple.

Training: She developed her art on the streets of Chicago’s South Side and went on to win a tap dance contest in Savannah, Georgia. At 13 years old, she got her first musical theatre job, dancing as a soubrette. She went professional by age 14 when she started performing with Count Basie. Later, in 1943 she took lessons in African dance from the amazing Katherine Dunham, dancer, anthropologist and creator of the Dunham Technique.

Style: Flash – acrobatics, flips, double spins, knee drops, flying splits, toe stands

Early Career: In 1931 she started performing across the Southern US states with the Whitman Sisters’ all female chorus (the Whitman Sisters were four African American sisters whose successful touring company challenged racial stereotypes, ran for over 40 years and was the best paid act on the TOBA circuit). Later, Jeni formed the LeGon & Lane tap duo with her half-sister Willa Mae Lane in 1933. She danced in speciality acts in the Detroit nightclubs and then went on to dance in Los Angeles.

Hollywood & Beyond: Jeni was discovered in 1935 by manager Earl Dancer and she signed an extended contract with MGM Studios. Her first film casting was Broadway Melody of 1936, starring Eleanor Powell, but the contract was cancelled soon after because the studio “didn’t want to have two [female solo] dancers”, which basically meant they didn’t want her to outshine Powell. In the end, LeGon worked as a dance consultant and dance director for MGM, who didn’t know how to market a solo black female dancer. She said “I didn’t fit in at that time as one of the kids next door”. As was the case in those days, many of the Hollywood roles she did get cast her as some type of servant or maid. It was only when she starred in all-black films with people such as Cab Calloway, such as Hi De Ho (1947), that she said she got the chance “to be the heroine, to get kissed”. Her first actual screen role was in Hooray for Love (1935) where she danced with Bill Robinson. The film also starred Fats Waller, who she went on to work with for much of her career.

In 1936 she got some work in the UK, appearing on the West End stage in C.B Cochran’s revue, Follow the Sun and in the film Dishonour Bright (1936). 

Movie Credits: Hooray for Love (1935), Dishonour Bright (1936), Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937), This Was Paris (1937), Start Cheering (1938), Fools for Scandal (1938),  Double Deal (1939), I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (1940), Birth Of The Blues (1941), Bahama Passage (1941), Sundown (1941), Arabian Nights (1941), While Thousands Cheered (1943), Stormy Weather (1943), Hi De Ho (1947), Easter Parade (1948), I Shot Jesse James (1949), Somebody Loves Me (1952), Bright Road (1953), Documentary – Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way (1999), Bones (2001).

Later Life: Jeni quit Hollywood in the 1950s, studied percussion, and continued to work in dance and music, including teaching and running drama workshops. She relocated to Vancouver in Canada, a place she found much more welcoming than the US.

She Said:

I decided I wanted to be in show business. I used to sneak out of school and go see Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway and all the wonderful bands they had at that time

I’ve had a dance school all my life

I danced like a boy

Hollywood was a black and white world

[MGM] were paying me $1,250 a week and telling me I wasn’t good enough to eat in their dining room

Honours

  • Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame
  • National Congress of Black Women
  • Doctorate of Performing Arts in American Dance, Oklahoma City University (2002)
  • International Tap Dance Hall of Fame, American Tap Dance Foundation (2002)

Modern References:

Jeni LeGon is the subject of obsession for one of the protagonists in Zadie Smith’s novel Swing Time, that I am yet to read!

Sources:
  • BFI https://www2.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/jeni-legon-hollywood-dance-pioneer-swing-time
  • The History Makers https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/jeni-legon-38
  • Vancouver Sun https://vancouversun.com/Entertainment/african-american-tap-dancing-diva-jeni-legon-dies-at-age-96-in-vancouver-with-video?r
  • The Province https://theprovince.com/entertainment/celebrity/im-doing-ok-and-im-living-in-a-great-big-way-jeni-legon-often-stole-the-spotlight-dancing-with-the-biggest-stars-of-the-20th-century
  • American Tap Dance Foundation https://www.atdf.org/hall-of-fame-bios
  • Malone, Jacqui, Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago (1996)
  • Valis-Hill, Constance, Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press, New York (2010)